Over the last 6 years, I have taught first grade, which I love. However, this school year, due to the pandemic and adjustments made at my school, I moved over to fourth grade. I do not see this as a permanent move, but while embracing it, I learned that my writing game had to step up.
With that in mind, I decided to put into words things I might already know, but am really discovering as I progress along my writing journey and learning to teach writing to fourth graders.
As I approached this, I decided to look at my aha moments and this was one of the first: How to write a summary and how that can help refine my pitch.
For fourth graders, and it seems many writers, it is difficult to know how to write a summary. How much is too much? How much is too little?
As you might expect, I had summaries at both ends of the spectrum. One student wrote a summary that was nearly as long as the story while another one didn’t even give me a complete sentence.
So how do we write a summary? It can vary on the type and length of your story, but no matter what kind of story or how long, the summary should be a snapshot of what happens.
I learned this little trick to help me: SWBST or Someone Wants But So Then.
So lets see what this means:
Someone: Who or what is your character?
Wants: What do they want? This can be internal or external or even both.
But: What stands in the way? What physical or social or mental obstacles are there?
So: So what does your character do to overcome the obstacles? This is a great way to see if your character is their own champion. Make sure that the obstacle and solution match, i.e. physical obstacle/physical solution.
Then: How does your story end? Now that your character has overcome, what do they do or how do they use their newfound strength?
Does this sound too simple? Maybe it sounds complicated? Well, let’s try it and see how it works.
First we need to choose our work. For this exercise I am going to choose Star Wars: A New Hope (that is the original Star Wars film).
Someone: Luke Skywalker
Want: Wants to be a hero
But: He lives on the edge of the galaxy far away from the action
So: He joins forces with others to rescue the princess
Then: He discovers he can be not only a hero, but a Jedi, the ultimate hero of the galaxy.
Now to write it out:
Luke Skywalker longs to be a hero but is stuck at the edge of the galaxy as far away as he can be from the action. When he accidentally receives a message about a princess in distress, Luke joins up with other unlikely heroes and discovers he isn’t simply a hero, but a Jedi with the power to be the ultimate hero of the galaxy.
This summary gives you all the details without going into too much detail or giving away the ending. In two sentences, I summed up the whole movie. This could also work as a pitch and with a little added voice of character and story, it could turn into a great pitch.
So let’s try the same thing with a picture book. For this exercise, I have chosen I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. If you’re not familiar with it, I suggest you read it as it is one of my favorites.
Wants: He wants his hat
But: He has lost it
So: So he asks his animal friends for help
Then: Discovers one of them had it all along.
Now to write it out:
Bear wants his hat but can’t find it anywhere so he begins to ask his animal friends if they have seen it. No one has seen his hat and bear laments that his hat is lost forever when he suddenly realizes that one of the animals had been lying to him all along.
This summary has given you all the basic details of the story without giving it away. This would make for a good foundation for a pitch as well. I would need to add in voice to really pump it up to being a great pitch.
So as you go to look to writing a summary for your book or even a pitch, try to write it out using the SWBST method. You can also do this to help you plan out your book or take a character dive, but we will cover that in a later tip.
To help you hone this skill, I might suggest that you also practice on books that you have read. Try to summarize them using this method and it may help you unlock how you visualize your story. I know it has helped me to not see the backstory in my head but see the story as it is.
Thank you for reading and I hope you come back next Tuesday for a new tip from my journey.